What role do recommendations play in a Fletcher application?  Well, from Fletcher’s point of view, a useful recommendation sheds light on a particular phase of an applicant’s background.  For example, the applicant’s transcript tells us that a student was successful as an undergraduate, but a professor’s recommendation can go much farther in telling us about the student’s experience.  From the perspective of you, the applicant, a useful recommendation affirms that you’re terrific, but also adds detail about your academic or professional experience.  Remember that we would like to see at least one letter from someone who can comment on your academic background.  Ideally, one letter will come from a professional contact.  The source of the third letter is up to you, but if you have been working for a while, a second professional recommendation makes the most sense.

Here’s a recipe for arranging supportive recommendations to accompany your application.

1. Choose your recommenders carefully.  If they don’t know you well, they won’t be able to write a good letter.  Ideally, this process will have started way before you find Fletcher’s online application, but if it didn’t, you can still make up for lost time.

2. Once you have selected the people you would like to ask for a recommendation, be sure to ask them directly if they can write a favorable letter.  Some recommenders would rather write the letter than acknowledge to a former student or employee that they don’t have anything (or anything positive) to say.  A useful technique is to invite them to tell you that now is an inconvenient time — suggesting that you understand they’re busy and they shouldn’t feel obliged to write.  This little bit of diplomacy may go a long way in giving those you ask a gentle way to say no.  We hate reading unfavorable letters that the recommenders should have declined to write.  And, of course, some people are truly too busy at a certain time to take on the additional task.  You want to be sure the letter will eventually arrive.  Someone who agrees to write but never gets around to it isn’t much help to you.

3. Related to the above, ask early, to give the recommenders time to write the letter.  You can keep an eye on their progress through the application management system.  It’s up to you to provide the gentle reminders that the recommender may need.

4. When you ask the recommender to write a letter for you, provide as much information as you can.  If it’s a former professor, send along a current résumé and maybe a piece of writing that you did for him/her.  For both academic and professional contacts, in addition to the résumé, you might want to include a draft of your personal statement, so that they will know what you are planning for your future career.  You should also provide a description of Fletcher (graduate professional school of international affairs) so that it’s clear what sort of degree you’re pursuing.

5. If there’s an aspect of your application that needs an explanation that you can’t find a place for, a good option may be to have your recommender provide it.  For example, let’s say that you worked several years for a small organization.  The recommender can tell us more about your employer than you have space for on your résumé.  Another example: let’s say that your academic record was good, but you started off a little wobbly.  Explain the situation to your academic recommender, and have him/her tell us about it.  Your professor will be familiar with your university and can provide insight into your background.

6.  Send a thank you note after the recommender has written the letter.  Send another thank you note after you have received your admissions decisions.  I hope that your attention to Application Boot Camp will bring you great results in the admissions process, but the reality is that you may be admitted to some programs and not admitted to others.  Send the thank you note regardless of how successful you were.  You may need that recommender again.  Whether you do or not, sending the thank you is just plain good manners.

In case it’s still unclear, I’ll close by saying that you’ll never be able to completely control the content of your recommendation letters.  But putting thought into the selection of your recommenders, and effort into informing them about your background and plans, gives you your best chance of ensuring your letters will be supportive and will meet the needs of your application.  Finally, if your recommender is unfamiliar with the process, consider pointing him/her to a previous post that we wrote with recommenders in mind.

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